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DOT, environmental group reach Corridor H agreement

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Department of Transportation has signed an agreement with 15 plaintiffs who sued to halt the construction of Corridor H and people on both sides of the issue said they are pleased with the settlement.

The settlement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia. Hogan has the authority to modify the terms of the agreement and it will not take effect without his approval, according to a statement released Monday by the Governor's Communication Office.

Sen. Sarah Minear, R-Tucker, who believes the corridor is necessary for economic development in her home county, said Monday she was "very happy" the opposing sides had reached an agreement.

"We have the prospect of a new alignment that I think will benefit the county seat. We're looking at a time frame of three years to commence construction. Because of the lawsuits, we thought we would be looking at four to six years," Minear said. "I'm pleased because Corridor H is probably the most critical project in the counties I represent."

Governor Cecil Underwood also praised the agreement.

"This agreement paves the way for us to Complete Corridor H as a four-lane highway and to fulfill the promise of more than three decades to the citizens of eastern West Virginia," Underwood said in a prepared statement.

"While we move forward to finish this highway with it's potential for economic growth and improved safety in this region, we must also work to protect West Virginia's most prized possessions--our natural beauty and rich history."

Underwood also said the agreement would remove the obstacle of ongoing litigation because without the agreement, opponents of the project could file suits over sections of the highway.

For their part, members of groups such as the Sierra Club and Corridor H alternatives, said they were pleased with the agreement because alignments for the portion of the route between Elkins and the Virginia border would be treated as nine separate projects in the Record of Decision Process.

Jim Sconyers said that as part of the agreement, the DOT would have to start at "square one" in reviewing and permitting the route in areas such as Blackwater Canyon, Corrick's Ford Battlefield and Big Run Bog. Sconyers added that highway planners would look for new routes in order to lessen impact to key natural and historic areas.

"We congratulate Corridor H alternatives and the West Virginia Department of Transportation," he said. "This agreement finally recognizes the importance of natural and landscape values."

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